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Take the train to Cheltenham … for the National Hunt Festival

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Giddyup! It’s time to head off to the races. Jump on board a train to Cheltenham and enjoy all the horseracing action at the National Hunt Festival.

And we don’t want to be old nags, but make sure you check our journey planner first for cheap train tickets, hotels and car-hire – you might save enough to have a little flutter while you’re there.

The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival is one of the most important events in Britain’s horseracing calendar and the 2012 event takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse between 13 -16 March.

Take the train…to see the Cheltenham Gold Cup

The most famous race of the festival is the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which takes place on the final day of the meeting. The Cheltenham Gold Cup is, along with the Grand National, one of National Hunt racing’s best-loved and most prestigious races. Originally a flat race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup dates back to 1819, but it became a jump race in 1924.

Previous winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup have included some of the biggest names in horse racing of all time – both in terms of jockeys and horses. The Irish thoroughbred legend Arkle, owned by the Duchess of Westminster, won the title on three consecutive occasions (1964 – 1966), a record later matched by Best Mate and his jockey Jim Culloty between 2002 and 2004.

Simon Sherwood pushed crowd-pleaser Desert Orchid on to be first past the post in 1989, whilst Ruby Walsh and Kauto Star had Cheltenham Gold Cup success in 2007 and 2009. Last year’s title went to Sam Whaley-Cohen on Long Run – but who will get a nose ahead in 2012? Take the train to Cheltenham for the event and you’ll be able to see for yourself.

What else is on the cards at the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival?

Although the Gold Cup is the centrepiece of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, there’s plenty of other horseracing action to see during the four-day event.

Here’s a run-down of the highlights of each day’s programme:

Tuesday 13 March – Champion Day

The gates open at 10.30 a.m., and the first race of the 2012 Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, starts at 1.30 p.m. Make sure you don’t miss the start, as the first race of the festival is famous for the ‘Cheltenham Roar’ – the cheers of the crowd as the tapes rise.

There are also six other races on the programme for the first day, including the battle for the prestigious ‘Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy’.

Wednesday 14 March – Ladies Day

Head off in your hats, girls – today is Ladies Day at Cheltenham. But don’t get too distracted by the racecourse fashion parade – seven races are scheduled to take place, including the exhilarating Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase and the Coral Cup.

Thursday 15 March – St. Patrick’s Thursday

If you’re looking for the craic in the run-up to St. Paddy’s Day, this is the race day for you. There’ll be plenty of Irish-themed entertainment going on at Cheltenham Race Course, as plenty of racing action. Race card highlights include the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, the Ryanair Chase and festival’s annual charity fundraiser, the St. Patrick’s Day Derby.

Friday 16 March – Cheltenham Gold Cup Day

The main event of the festival’s final day of racing is, of course, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup – but there are plenty of other races on the card too, making this an unmissable day out for horse racing fans. Other races on the schedule include the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the Albert Bartlett Novice’s Hurdle and the closing race of the festival, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Steeple Chase.

Getting to the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival by train

Getting to the Cheltenham Festival is simple when you travel by train. A shuttle bus service will be in operation between Cheltenham Spa Station and Cheltenham Racecourse from two hours prior to the start of racing until the end of each day, and taxis are also available from the station.

Other race days in 2012

If you can’t make it to Cheltenham for the National Hunt Festival, there are plenty more horse racing events you can go to if you fancy a flutter. Here are just a few key dates to pencil into your diary.

• 12 – 14 April 2012 – take the train to Liverpool and jump aboard a connecting service to Aintree to see the John Smith’s Grand National.

• 1 – 2 June 2012 – head off on the train to London and climb on board a connecting service to Epson to see the Derby.

• 19 – 23 June 2012 – hop on a train to Reading or London to catch a connecting service to Ascot for Royal Ascot.

• 22 – 25 August 2012 – jump on board a train to York for the Ebor Festival.

• 27 December 2012 – take the train to Chepstow to cheer on your favourite in the Coral Welsh National.

Will you be taking the train to the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival this year? Will you be heading off to any other race days? Let us know by leaving a comment below…

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